Monday, September 19, 2011

Salina, and I don't mean Kansas

The first storm the area has seen in four months is upon us. We're in Salina (one more island in the Aeolian Island chain) and have had 19 days of brilliant sunshine, so this is quite a change--but it should be sunny again by tomorrow. The winds are blowing, the sea is churning, and the brilliant pink bougainvillea blossoms are swirling like little whirlwinds. But the temperature is still a pleasant 75, so we're enjoying it all. Salina is the largest of all the Aeolian Islands, with six small towns scattered around, and has the most interesting vegetation.

Filicudi from Pollara
The enclosed open-air sitting room
 We arrived here by hydrofoil of Saturday and took a taxi to across the island to the hamlet of Pollara, where we found the restored farmhouse we are staying in for the week. It's perfectly situated overlooking the sea, and the views are glorious as the sun sets over the island of Filicudi in the distance.

The kitchen
The house was restored by a friendly architect who speaks a little English and lives with his wife in the main section--our quarters are on one side, with a separate entrance. We have a kitchen/dining area (with a couple of spare single beds), an enclosed outdoor sitting room with a roof of reeds, a small bathroom, and an upstairs bedroom that is accessible by a steep, ladder-like set of 12 steps. The bedroom is my favorite part of the house; with its big bed and large square window looking out onto the sea, it is a haven for relaxation. The white stucco walls of the house are very thick, so I can get Internet access only when I'm sitting outside.

Pollara has the most idyllic cove for swimming, backed by towering layered cliffs that go straight down from the plateau where all the houses sit. The beach is a steep walk down switchback stairs, but once you get there it's absolutely beautiful. (This was the location for the beach scenes in the film "Il Postino," and the house that Pablo Neruda lived in in the movie is hidden away just above the beach.)

Vulcano mudbath girl
 Before we left Lipari we took a couple of other boat trips. The first was a hydrofoil ride to Vulcano, which is a kind of crazy island complete with an active volcanic crater (just smoke, no fire) and its own outdoor volcanic mudbath. The mud is sulfurous and smelly, and didn't look too appealing, though plenty of people were wallowing away in it. You get the sense of being at an informal spa as you wander around the island to the pretty swimming beach.

Il Capitano steers with his feet
Yes, I am addicted to swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Another trip was on a smaller private boat to the distant islands of Filicudi and Alicudi, where we had five opportunities to swim in coves where the boat docked. Awesome! The best place was the eponymous Blue Grotto, which definitely lives up to its name. What a fantastic swim that was. The Mediterranean is extra salty--at least in this area--so you can float and bob all day without hardly moving a muscle. The water temperature is perfect--just cool enough to be refreshing.

Swimming at the Blue Grotto

At this time of the year our farmhouse costs only $400 euros for the week, really a bargain. For another 18 euros a day we can rent a motorbike from the architect, so we did that yesterday. We've only ridden motorbikes once before (Vespas in Bermuda, years ago) and had never ridden tandem, so it was a bit tense at first, but we soon got the hang of it--John driving and me hanging on in back. The mountain roads we went on couldn't have been more twisty. Fortunately, the bike came with sturdy helmets in case of a spill. It was a lot of fun but I think we'll stick with the local bus for the rest of the week!

We motored over the hill to the small beach town of Rinella, where we joined the locals eating Sunday afternoon lunch at a restaurant overlooking the little harbor. Dish of the day was "spaghetti with fish"--a platter of spaghetti cooked in the local style (capers, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil) with a delicious whole fish, accompanied by eggplant caponata and Messina, the local beer. Way too much for the two of us to eat, but really nice. 

Just five more days here in the islands and then it's on to Turkey for five weeks. Will miss the Aeolis!

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